Skip to main content
Year
2010
Month Day
December 17

Street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolates in Tunisia, igniting the Arab Spring

On December 17, 2010 26-year-old street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolates in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. His dramatic action is considered the start of the Arab Spring, a period of pro-democracy uprisings that reverberated through North Africa and the Middle East.   

Mohamed Bouazizi lived in the impoverished city of Sidi Bouzid, about 100 miles south of the capital Tunis. As the prices of commodities spiked across the world, Bouazizi found that rising prices made it difficult for him to afford food for his family with the money he earned selling produce in the center of town.

On the morning of December 17, Bouazizi was selling fruit without a government permit. Faida Hamdi, a municipal inspector, confiscated Bouazizi's merchandise and, according to some residents, slapped the fruit seller. Bouazizi went to the police station to retrieve his confiscated electric scale and was refused, then asked to meet with the governor and was again refused. At around 11:30 am, he brought his cart outside the governor's office, poured flammable liquid over his head and ignited his entire body.

Bouazizi's cousin Ali Bouazizi received a call about the self-immolation, ran to the governor's office and used his Samsung cell phone to record his cousin's body being loaded into an ambulance. Ali Bouazizi then spent the afternoon filming the protest that Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation unleashed. He uploaded the footage to his Facebook and sent it to the Arab news network Al Jazeera, which played the images on TV that evening. By the next day, protests had erupted in cities across Tunisia.

The uprising was explosive, with thousands of young people taking to the streets in Sidi Bouzid and beyond. Tunisia's authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, at first responded by sending police to crack down on the protests. On December 28, he visited Bouazizi in the hospital. Ben Ali also had the officer who allegedly slapped Bouazizi arrested. Bouazizi died a few days later and Ben Ali and his family were forced to flee to Saudi Arabia shortly thereafter.

The protests, which became known as the Jasmine Revolution, lasted a month and inspired similar revolutions in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Syria, where citizens railed against high unemployment, high food prices, corruption and political repression. Tunisian-born writer Feriel Bouhafa called this an "endogenous revolution," which occurred because of the specific social and political context in Tunisia. Tunisians had grown resentful of their authoritarian government, creating a powder keg awaiting the spark of Bouazizi's public death.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

First issue of "Vogue" is published

On December 17, 1892, Arthur Baldwin Turnure first publishes a new magazine, dedicated to “the ceremonial side of life” and targeted at “the sage as well as the debutante, men of affairs as well as the belle.” A product of the Gilded Age, Vogue has chronicled and influenced high ...read more

Clean Air Act becomes law

On December 17, 1963, one of the first major pieces of environmental legislation in the United States becomes law. The Clean Air Act empowers federal and state agencies to research and regulate air pollution, marking a major expansion of government efforts to fight back against ...read more

Kim Jong Il, leader of North Korea, dies

On December 17, 2011, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s enigmatic, reclusive dictator, dies of a heart attack while reportedly traveling on a train in his country. Kim, who assumed leadership of North Korea upon the death of his father in 1994, ruled the Communist nation with an iron ...read more

Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme sentenced to life for assassination attempt

A federal jury in Sacramento, California, sentences Lynette Alice Fromme, also known as “Squeaky” Fromme, to life in prison for her attempted assassination of President Gerald R. Ford. On September 5, a Secret Service agent wrested a semi-automatic .45-caliber pistol from Fromme, ...read more

japanese internment camp, roosevelt, franklin d roosevelt, fdr, war

U.S. approves end to internment of Japanese Americans

During World War II, U.S. Major General Henry C. Pratt issues Public Proclamation No. 21, declaring that, effective January 2, 1945, Japanese American “evacuees” from the West Coast could return to their homes. On February 19, 1942, 10 weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl ...read more

Stuntman Stan Barrett breaks the sound barrier

On December 17, 1979, Hollywood stuntman Stan Barrett blasts across a dry lakebed at California’s Edwards Air Force Base in a rocket- and missile-powered car, becoming the first man to travel faster than the speed of sound on land. He did not set an official record, however. The ...read more

First airplane flies

Near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright make the first successful flight in history of a self-propelled, heavier-than-air aircraft on December 17, 1903. Orville piloted the gasoline-powered, propeller-driven biplane, which stayed aloft for 12 seconds and ...read more

Third and final “Lord of the Rings” movie opens

On December 17, 2003, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final film in the trilogy based on the best-selling fantasy novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, opens in theaters. The film was a huge box-office success and won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best ...read more

Circus catches fire in Brazil

On December 17, 1961, a fire at a circus in Brazil kills more than 300 people and severely burns hundreds more. The cause of the fire was never conclusively determined but it may have been the result of sparks from a train passing nearby. Christmas week was just beginning, the ...read more

“Operation Iceman” nabs murderer Richard Kuklinski

Richard Kuklinski, a suspect in several murders, is arrested by undercover agents at a truck stop off the New Jersey Turnpike, marking the culmination of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms’ “Operation Iceman.” Kuklinski had sealed his fate when he showed operative ...read more

Union General Ulysses S. Grant expels Jews from his military district

On December 17, 1862, Union General Ulysses S. Grant lashes out at Jewish cotton speculators, who he believed were the driving force behind the black market for cotton. Grant issued an order expelling all Jewish people from his military district, which encompassed parts of ...read more

Boris Yeltsin announces the Soviet Union will cease to exist by New Year’s Eve

After a long meeting between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin, a spokesman for the latter announces that the Soviet Union will officially cease to exist on or before New Year’s Eve. Yeltsin declared that, “There will be no ...read more

France formally recognizes the United States

On December 17, 1777, the French foreign minister, Charles Gravier, count of Vergennes, officially acknowledges the United States as an independent nation. News of the Continental Army’s overwhelming victory against the British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga gave Benjamin ...read more

Commander at Pearl Harbor relieved of his duties

Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel was relieved of his command of the U.S. Pacific Fleet as part of a shake-up of officers in the wake of the Pearl Harbor disaster. Admiral Kimmel had enjoyed a successful military career, beginning in 1915 as an aide to the Assistant Secretary of the ...read more